By Jil McIntosh, Driving.ca - Diesel engines have been around for more than a century, but North Americans have never really flocked to it for light-duty use the way Europeans have. That hasn't stopped automakers from trying, though, and with its all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, GM offers an equally-new diesel.
The 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel is offered alongside two four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engines: a 1.5-L unit making 170 horsepower and a 2.0-L engine producing 252 hp. The diesel isn't the strongest of the three - its 240 pound-feet of torque sits between the two gas engines - but at a published combined city/highway fuel consumption of 7.4 L/100 kilometes, it's the most efficient.
Those fuel numbers are a big reason many automakers are sticking with diesel, especially a truck-heavy company like GM that needs to off-set thirstier members of the fleet. As with all current diesels, you have to add diesel exhaust fluid, or DEF, which automatically squirts into the exhaust system to neutralize pollutants. The company estimates about 8,000 to 9,000 kilometres between refills. So for most drivers, it'll probably be replenished during the oil change.
The engine is a clean-sheet design, engineered by GM in Italy and built in Hungary, and it's pretty heavy on tech. The injection system can deliver fuel ridiculously fast - up to 10 times per ignition cycle - for quieter operation, and it has an intake port with a butterfly valve to swirl the air for better combustion. The timing chain is on the back of the engine to further reduce noise. I don't know if I'd quite call it a "whisper diesel" as GM does, but it's definitely nothing like the clattery versions of days gone by.
Pricing depends on the trim and driveline. The Equinox starts at $25,445, which gets you the 1.5-litre gas engine and front-wheel drive; for all-wheel drive, it's $27,845. The 2.0-L turbo-four runs from $34,020 to $37,445. The diesel versions are the priciest, starting at $34,120 for front-drive models and at $36,520 for AWD versions, while my Premier Diesel tester was the chart-topper of the entire Equinox range, at $37,945. Mine was then further equipped with the True North package, which adds such items as a power sunroof, navigation, ventilated seats and such electronic safety nannies as lane keeping and emergency braking, which took it to $41,945.
Overall, this new Equinox is impressive. I like the size and the styling, and the new cabin is handsome and roomy. The seats are supportive both front and rear, and the rears fold down easily to provide an almost-flat cargo floor. There are dials and buttons for most of the controls, so changing the temperature or the radio volume should always be quick and straightforward, and the icons on the infotainment screen are large and simple to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, and there's an integrated Wi-Fi hot spot that can handle as many as seven devices, but you have to buy a subscription to stay connected once the trial period is up.
The driving experience is a typical commuter vehicle done well. Handling is predictable, and steering is just light enough to be easy without feeling vague. The ride is equally smooth and well planted, and you have to hit a pretty big pothole before you start to hear any bumps. The all-wheel system runs primarily in front-wheel drive until the back wheels need power. It can be disconnected via a button on the console, ostensibly for better fuel economy, although I'd rather spend whatever small amount of fuel it saves to have that all-wheel drive on tap should the conditions warrant it.
The engine gets the job done, but it's no powerhouse. Don't expect the torque-rich, low-end power that you'd get out of a diesel-equipped sports model or truck. For that matter, don't expect it to have superior towing capacity; both the 1.5-L and the diesel are rated for 1,500 pounds, while the 2.0-L can pull 3,500 pounds.
In my week with the diesel Equinox, I averaged 9.7 L/100 kilometres; that's well over the official number, although I'll cut it some slack because it was brutally cold weather. All engines have an automatic start/stop feature that shuts them off at idle, intended to improve consumption and emissions. What I really hate is that GM has ditched the over-ride button, so you can't disable this feature if you don't want the engine shutting itself off.
All Equinox models include such safety features as a rear-view camera, a rear-seat reminder, and a Teen Driver program that tattles if young driver's don't wear seatbelts, or if they speed or set off the safety nannies. Still, forward-collision alert, emergency braking, bird's-eye camera, and lane-keep assist are only available as options on the top-line Premier models. In a vehicle intended for families, why not offer them across the board?
Offering three engines provides lots of choice, although each has its pros and cons. The 1.5-L costs the least, but it works hard; the 2.0-L is powerful, but it's the thirstiest and prefers premium gas. The diesel is efficient, but the most expensive. Overall, though, for ride, comfort, practicality and good looks, this newest Equinox is a really good machine.
Overview: An excellent makeover of a practical sport use
Pros: Quiet ride, comfortable seats, handsome styling
Cons: Costly diesel option, safety features should be available on lower trims
Value for money: Good
What I would change: Let me shut off the idle-stop if I choose
How I would spec it: The diesel in LT trim